Eruditorum Press

We’re all for praxis, just not for going outside

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L.I. Underhill is a media critic and historian specializing in pop culture, with a focus on science fiction (especially Star Trek) and video games. Their projects include a critical history of Star Trek told through the narrative of a war in time, a “heretical” history of The Legend of Zelda series and a literary postmodern reading of Jim Davis' Garfield.

14 Comments

  1. trekker709
    July 11, 2013 @ 12:32 am

    “The Mind Meld is a very intimate, spiritual and sexually coded process by which two people can know each other utterly and fully. Secondly, it’s about communication and the sharing of worldviews. It could well be seen as the purest, most naked form of it there is: mysticism and meditation–spiritual, mental joining.” Well put….not sure what you mean by sexually coded, but it seems like the mind meld, and the katra, became almost substitutes for religious faith. Instead of humans communing with an invisible God, there’s the possibility of shared consciousness with other individual beings face to face– at least for Vulcans, when the occasion calls for it. As you say, this episode showed a way for Kirk to be more explorer than soldier, and for Star Trek to grow beyond rejecting the counterculture in “This side of paradise.”

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  2. Adam Riggio
    July 11, 2013 @ 4:21 am

    Star Trek's engagement with the counterculture of the 1960s is a fascinating affair. I mean, it's resulted in some at times painfully bad episodes (there's more corn in The Way to Eden than a nacho factory). But just as I've commented before, starting with Kirk's anti-authoritarian streak, there's a long tradition of Star Trek heroes being very skeptical of the institutions of the military and police, even though Starfleet is itself a military organization.

    I have a very conservative libertarian friend on the internet (don't diss him too much though, as he can give you a good schooling on Hayek and von Mieses — he's the original definition of amateur, the non-pro so skilled he could turn pro without much extra work). As we were getting to know each other again after not really talking since high school, he saw my left-leaning associations on facebook. And in our conversations he initially made a lot of assumptions that I was in favour of a big state that controlled and planned all production, and a strong, totalitarian-leaning police force. His assumptions about the left were that we all were variations on the Soviet and Chinese model of state-centric socialism. In our conversations since, I've pointed out to him how many critiques of state power are part of the contemporary left, whose true vanguards are anarchist and work in community activism.

    And Star Trek is engaging with leftist ideals that, at this time in American society, are of both stripes. The Soviet Union and its authoritarian "leftism" still loom large politically, and the presumptions of many in the United States were that the leftist movements surrounding them were allied with the USSR. But the civil rights, environmentalist, anarchist, women's rights, and hippie movements were all non-aligned (or rather, "a plague on both of you!") anarchism. Weirdly, I think Star Trek shows how these politics of liberation from authority can exist in an authoritarian structure, as long as you have the minimal autonomy of your starship flying through space.

    And mind melds are totally sexual. Didn't The Coup have a song a few years ago called "Mindfuck"?

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  3. Josh Marsfelder
    July 11, 2013 @ 10:09 am

    "And Star Trek is engaging with leftist ideals that, at this time in American society, are of both stripes. The Soviet Union and its authoritarian "leftism" still loom large politically, and the presumptions of many in the United States were that the leftist movements surrounding them were allied with the USSR. But the civil rights, environmentalist, anarchist, women's rights, and hippie movements were all non-aligned (or rather, "a plague on both of you!") anarchism. Weirdly, I think Star Trek shows how these politics of liberation from authority can exist in an authoritarian structure, as long as you have the minimal autonomy of your starship flying through space."

    I definitely think this is where Star Trek as a franchise eventually ends up, for pretty much the reasons you've outlined here. Indeed the entire concept of seeing the series as a "Vaka Rangi": An island of a starship that is at once a part of the larger cosmic godhead but its own individual culture, is perhaps another way of reading it, and this line of thought is going to be a core tenet of my arguments in the Rick Berman era.

    I'm not entirely certain it's obvious yet that this is going to be the show's future at the end of the first season, however, and it's going to take a really much longer time than should have been necessary to exorcise Gene Roddenberry's demons (to call Star Trek firmly and clearly allied with feminism, environmentalism and the counterculture in 1967 is a significant stretch IMHO, mostly thanks to him). But that said I do think you're correct to say the seeds of this are starting to be sewn here.

    There's a post coming up in a week or so along these very lines that I have a feeling you'll be particularly interested in. There's a show coming up that I feel proves the sorts of things you brought up in your comment were very much a part of the global zeitgeist at the time and is the first irrefutable evidence the voyaging starship genre has a future.

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  4. BerserkRL
    July 11, 2013 @ 11:58 am

    freed from the shackles of having to adapt their stories to a teleplay, Coon is right back in “Arena” territory

    Though "Arena" was also an adaptation of a very different story.

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  5. BerserkRL
    July 11, 2013 @ 12:08 pm

    The key failing of Foundation, after all, was the concept of psychohistory and that every single aspect of human behaviour can be mathematically calculated and predicted and ultimately reduced to cold numbers and theory

    But after establishing this premise, Asimov spends the rest of the series deconstructing it, no?

    I have a very conservative libertarian friend on the internet

    Do you have any capitalist Marxist friends?

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  6. Josh Marsfelder
    July 11, 2013 @ 5:20 pm

    "Arena" wasn't an adaptation: It was an entirely original script that coincidentally happened to bear some striking similarities to a Fredric Brown story Coon hadn't even read.

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  7. Josh Marsfelder
    July 11, 2013 @ 5:22 pm

    "But after establishing this premise, Asimov spends the rest of the series deconstructing it, no?"

    I'm actually not entirely convinced he does. I still read The Mule and the Second Foundation as an outlier and a secondary experimental trial, respectively. I'm not taking the 80s and 90s books into consideration in my analysis here though, mind.

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  8. BerserkRL
    July 11, 2013 @ 5:33 pm

    That would be quite a coincidence. I thought the claim was that Coon had read the story and forgotten it.

    Though the fact that the similarity was caught by a staffer named Kellam de Forest means that coincidence has a hand here in any case.

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  9. BerserkRL
    July 11, 2013 @ 5:34 pm

    I'm not taking the 80s and 90s books into consideration in my analysis here though, mind

    Oh, neither am I. Just the original trilogy.

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  10. Josh Marsfelder
    July 11, 2013 @ 5:49 pm

    Yeah: Coon wrote "Arena" on his own over the course of a weekend without knowing about Brown's story. When the similarities were pointed out to him, he put Brown's name on his script, called him up and asked if it was OK to "adapt" the story for Star Trek.

    Well, that;s the story Herb Solow and Bob Justman tell in Inside Star Trek at any rate. I get the sense they tend to be bang on about most things, so I'm inclined to believe them though.

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  11. Cleofis
    July 12, 2013 @ 9:33 am

    "The Mind Meld is, after all, a very intimate, spiritual and sexually coded process by which two people can know each other utterly and fully…Secondly, however, the Mind Meld is about communication and the sharing of worldviews. Indeed, it could well be seen as the purest, most naked form of it there is: Not just discourse, but discourse framed in terms of mysticism and meditation-Spiritual, mental joining, in a sense."

    …given how it will be deployed in The Undiscovered Country, I think I may be staring to get an idea of what your thoughts on Nicolas Meyer may end up being.

    As to the episode itself, the twist with the Organians is one of my favorite Trek twists (and jokes, which it essentially is; the whole episode is essentially a slow burn build to the punchline). There's also a fairly cogent message there, too: this is what happens when a seemingly powerless, voiceless population finally says no to authoritarian power; the complaints of Kirk and Kor are the complaints of imperialist powers acting outraged when American flags and political figures are burned in effigy in the Middle East (or indeed violence against their encroaching military powers itself). I actually prefer to read this episode as a satirical farce more than anything else 🙂

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  12. Josh Marsfelder
    July 12, 2013 @ 11:12 am

    "…given how it will be deployed in The Undiscovered Country, I think I may be staring to get an idea of what your thoughts on Nicolas Meyer may end up being."

    Not to tip my hand too early, but two things to keep in mind about that scene in The Undiscovered Country: 1. Meyer is spectacularly uninterested in mysticism and sexuality and 2. He's gone on record in recent years disowning the scene and admitting he wishes he'd never written it.

    "As to the episode itself, the twist with the Organians is one of my favorite Trek twists (and jokes, which it essentially is; the whole episode is essentially a slow burn build to the punchline). There's also a fairly cogent message there, too: this is what happens when a seemingly powerless, voiceless population finally says no to authoritarian power; the complaints of Kirk and Kor are the complaints of imperialist powers acting outraged when American flags and political figures are burned in effigy in the Middle East (or indeed violence against their encroaching military powers itself). I actually prefer to read this episode as a satirical farce more than anything else :)"

    A great take, and I definitely think that meaning is there as well. At the same time though, the Organians are also, for better or worse, pure pacifists. Another teaser: This is an issue I'm not finished talking about.

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  13. Josh Marsfelder
    July 12, 2013 @ 11:13 am

    Although this particular thread should probably be on the "Errand of Mercy" entry now that I think about it…

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  14. Cleofis
    July 12, 2013 @ 4:46 pm

    That it should, and I completely forgot to actually post the latter half there instead, my bad xD

    Reply

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